|Rohit Ashok with his grandfather KS Kalidas|
Rohit Ashok’s mridangam arangetram at Raga Sudha Hall on 11th May was one of the more heartwarming debuts of the recent past. An obviously talented young percussionist, the schoolboy also proved lucky in more ways than one.
To be taught mridangam by one of the better teachers around—his grandfather KS Kalidas—a disciple of the eminent Palani Subramania Pillai, as well as his father Ashok Kalidas, was, along with his genetic predisposition to music, surely one of nature’s gifts bestowed on Rohit.
The setting was perfect too, with many top musicians and gurus as well as discerning listeners packing the hall in an obvious show of affection and respect for the lad and his grandfather-guru.
Rohit could not have asked for better vidushis or vidwans either to accompany on this all-important day of his life. Vocalist Sumitra Vasudev and violinist Dr R Hemalatha are both fine artists, among the most accomplished and nuanced musicians around, but rendered even more apposite for the occasion by their empathy for the young percussionist.
The main suite in Todi was exquisite—in raga alapana, kriti rendition, niraval and swaraprastara, in more or less equal measure—though to me the raga alapana was the best part, with vocalist and violinist delighting the ear with unexpected phrases as much as keenly anticipated ‘known’variations.
When Sumitra sketched the higher notes with some brilliant strokes, I was eagerly expecting her to stay there for a long while, but she descended rather soon from the peak after some tantalizing glimpses of the grandeur of the raga at that altitude. Perhaps she will let herself go completely on another occasion, getting drowned and drowning us in turn in the flood of her imagination. Hemalatha was delicacy personified. In the way she embellished the main artist’s explorations with her own creativity without once exceeding her defined role as accompanist, Hemalatha was true to her consistent propensity to do so, regardless of the stature of the main artist.
A festive atmosphere pervaded the concert, with the rasikas palpably willing the boy on towards an excellent display befitting the occasion, and he did not disappoint us. When, during the course of her felicitatory address, Sangita Kalanidhi R Vedavalli confessed her nervousness about the effect of two hours of drumming on the youngster’s soft, adolescent hands and finger, she was reflecting the collective anxiety of the audience. But Rohit passed the test with flying colours, demonstrating the efficacy of the intelligent hard work he had put in through years of abhyasa.
Both Vedavalli and fellow speaker Sangita Kala Acharya PS Narayanaswami blessed the boy wholeheartedly, after certifying him to be a true legatee of the great Palani tradition of percussion. They expressed their admiration for the youngster’s confidence and spirit of adventure in doing a tani avartanam in jhampa tala and his courageous rhythmic sallies, while acknowledging Sumitra’s contribution in the ‘merciless’challenges she set him.
They both applauded Kalidas’s thorough preparation of his ward for the occasion, as they did the general high quality of his disciples, two of whom helped young Rohit on stage.
Rohit’s parents played a dignified part in the proceedings of the evening, while honouring the guests on the dais and delivering a vote of thanks.
The prayer song by Brinda Manickavasagam and the compering by Nikila Shyam Sunder measured up to the overall standard of the evening’s fare.